At the beginning of the school year, Grayson Joseph moved from the remote community of Kyuquot to the city of Port Alberni with his mother, Irene.
It was a stark transition for the teenager, who went from a tiny school where everyone knew his name to the Alberni District Secondary School (ADSS).
“I thought I wouldn’t like it and that I wouldn’t want to be here,” he said. “I was scared. It was a big school, so I wanted to go back.”
Joseph pined for the place he had always known as home and struggled to engage with his classes.
Despite that, he was awarded a $200 academic prize during the annual Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) Scholarship Ceremony in Port Alberni on June 10.
Joseph said the scholarship marked a “new start” that he could carry forward into Grade 9.
As he collected his cheque, Irene’s eyes welled with tears of joy.
“I’m so proud,” she said.
Each year, Nuu-chah-nulth students are encouraged to apply for a variety of scholarships awarded by NTC.
It’s been three years since the tribal council has hosted a ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions, which made this year more special, said Ian Caplette, NTC director of education, training and social development.
“People were just happy to see their families and be together again,” he said.
Students in Kindergarten through to Grade 4 were eligible to apply for a $50 scholarship draw.
A scholarship selection committee was appointed to award applicants in Grades 8 to 12 with $200 bursaries. Students were selected by the committee based on their grades and written essays in four different categories: academic, athletic, artistic, and cultural.
Post-secondary scholarships were also available for students excelling in topics including language, culture, business, health and education.
Earlier this year, Joseph opened up to his family about being transgender and changed his name from Kamea to Grayson.
After revealing his identity, he said he felt “at peace.”
“I feel happier – accepted [and] loved,” he said.
As Joseph eased into his new life in Port Alberni and felt more comfortable in his own skin, Irene said he started to improve in school after Christmas.
“I’m really proud of my baby – to know how resilient, how independent and how strong he is to overcome all those hardships.”
Families from 12 different Nuu-chah-nulth nations gathered at ADSS on June 10 to support over 100 scholarship recipients.
NTC Vice-President Mariah Charleson was among those championing the students.
“I encourage all of you to continue fuelling your fire and continue doing what you’re passionate about,” she said. “Whether you've received a scholarship for your arts, your athletics, or your academics, we're going to hold you to a new standard now because we know what you're all capable of.”
Alexander Ambrose beamed with pride as he was acknowledged onstage alongside his fellow students from Hesquiaht First Nation.
When the 10-year-old received his $200 academic scholarship cheque, his jaw dropped in disbelief.
“It feels really great,” he said. “I never thought I would actually get it.”
Ambrose’s father, William, said he never had any doubts.
“He sets his own goals and he completes them,” William said. “I’m proud of him.”
The past few years have been tough on Nuu-chah-nulth communities due to COVID-19, said Tseshaht First Nation Chief Councillor Ken Watts.
“I don't think we give our kids enough credit for the resiliency they've had to get to where they are today,” he said.
Children have had to adapt to online learning, wearing face-masks and they’ve been isolated from their friends, Watts said.
“Today is a testament to the resiliency of each and every one of [them],” he said.
Irene tightly wrapped her arms around Joseph as he held his scholarship cheque in hand. They had made it through the year together and the fresh start marked by the accolade was worthy of Irene’s tears.